If Kobe Bryant continues to carry the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Utah Jazz continue struggling, the superteam with Kobe and Dwight Howard could actually squeak into the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Lakers are only half a game behind the Jazz.
The Lakers trailed by 25 on Wednesday night against the last-place Hornets, but Bryant responded with 42 points and 12 assists. They trailed by 15 on Friday night against the ninth-place Toronto Raptors, but Bryant had 41 points — including a game-tying three to send the game into overtime and a game-winning dunk once they were there — and the Lakers got the win.
Meanwhile, the Jazz lost to the Bulls as Marco Belinelli hit a go-ahead three with under six seconds on the clock. They've now lost three in a row and six out of seven, and it's come at the wrong time. The good news for Utah is that with Al Jefferson back from a sprained ankle and Mo Williams returning to the lineup after missing over two months with a finger injury, they're healthy for the stretch run. The bad news is they have to beat out a team that, for all its woes, boasts one of the league's best players and a guy who's supposed to be the league's top center, as well as a decent supporting cast.
The Lakers could conceivably rise as high as sixth — they're just three games behind the Warriors, with the Rockets just a game behind them — but they'd settle for getting into the postseason after a troubling year.
There's other battles on the West's playoff ladder: the Thunder are just 1.5 back of the Spurs for the top seed and the Clippers are just a game ahead of the Grizzlies for the third seed, while the Nuggets are 2.5 games back of the Clippers. But there's enough separation between the Nuggets and Warriors that the top five spots are essentially locked up.
Here's a look at the full conference standings:
|San Antonio Spurs||63||48-15||.762|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||62||46-16||.742|
|Los Angeles Clippers||64||44-20||.688|
|Golden State Warriors||63||35-28||.556|
|Los Angeles Lakers||63||32-31||.508|
|Portland Trail Blazers||61||29-32||.475|
|New Orleans Hornets||62||21-41||.339|